Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (pub. 1953)
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Caution: I will assume that if you are reading this book, you will have already read the previous one. Therefore, anything about that book which I avoided spoiling in its review, should not constitute a spoiler for you at this point, and may be mentioned here insofar as it doesn't spoil this book...
The first part of the book (Search by the Mule, comprising about a third of its total length) is set five years after the previous book. After having spent those years consolidating his power, with no further expansion to his "Union of Worlds," the Mule was desperate to find and destroy the Second Foundation. Han Pritcher, who we first met in the previous book, had been conducting a search on behalf of the Mule, and now the Mule- known as the First Citizen of the Union- called him back to Kalgan, to team him up with someone named Bail Channis. Pritcher, you will recall, is "controlled" by the Mule; that is, the Mule has used his mutant power to adjust Pritcher's emotions so that he cannot help but be completely loyal to the Mule. Bail Channis, on the other hand, is not so controlled, so it is hoped that the two men will approach the search with totally different perspectives, which might be of some help in accomplishing their objective.
However, members of the Second Foundation have a similar power, though theirs requires years of training, whereas the power is inborn in the Mule. Eventually, the search leads the Mule, who has followed his agents, to what he believes to be the planet of the Second Foundation. However, the Mule ends up having a change of mind about his plans, and returns home to govern his Union peacefully.
The second part of the book (Search by the Foundation) is set in 376 F.E. (For a nice change of pace, this date is explicitly and in greater detail than you might imagine, stated partway through the story, as well as having earlier been indicated by the year of birth and current age of the main character of the story, Arkady Darell. Of course, the book also says the year is 11,692 of the Galactic Era, which stands in stark contrast to the first book's mention of Hari Seldon being born in 11,988 G.E. and dying in 12,069 (i.e., 1 F.E.) ...It is also explicitly stated that it is 76 years since the Mule established the First Citizenship. We also know that it took him five years to build his Union, followed by five years of consolidation before ending his search for the Second Foundation, followed by five years of peaceful rule before his natural death. What's not so clear to me is whether the First Citizenship was established at the time the Mule began his rise to power, or at the end of the first five years, after having conquered the first Foundation. We can certainly say that the title of First Citizen was established in 300 F.E. Which it seems to me puts the events of "The Mule" at either 300 or 305 F.E., and therefore the events of "Search by the Mule" at either 305 or 310, whereas Wikipedia lists them as, respectively, 310 and 315 F.E. I can only assume from this that whoever constructed that timeline was assuming the events of "The Mule" were 10 years after the establishment of the title "First Citizen," thinking of the five years building the empire plus five years consolidating, which makes no sense, because it was at the end of the second five years that "Search by the Mule" is unquestionably set. But they then add the same second five years again to arrive at 315 F.E. for that story's setting, and then another five for 320 as the date of the Mule's death. Unless I'm missing something... the timeline is definitely at least 5 years off... and even if it's 10 years off, and "The Mule" was set in 300 F.E., that would still be at least 5 years off the date of 295 which I calculated from the second book. Damned inconsistencies! You'd never see a psychohistorian pull this kind of inaccurate nonsense.)
But I digress, rather badly. Whatever the years of previous stories, this story is certainly set in 376 F.E. And now we meet Arcadia Darell (who prefers to be called Arkady), the 14-year-old daughter of Dr. Toran Darell, who is himself the son of Toran and Bayta Darell. Arkady is quite proud to be the granddaughter of Bayta Darell, who had played an integral part in history, of course, in the previous book. She's also quite clever, though perhaps not always quite as clever or as grown-up as she likes to think she is. She's still pretty cool, I think. I've always liked her. (When I started rereading this book prior to writing my review, for awhile there I was hearing her in my head, voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, who played Alice and Wendy in Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" and Peter Pan, respectively. This has no bearing on anything but my own imagination, but I just thought I'd mention it.) A couple other things I wanted to mention- Often in the course of all of these books, there appear characters who make significant contributions to history, who are somehow related to characters who also had a major impact on history, in earlier stories in the series. This always struck me as a bit unlikely, almost dynastic in a sense (which is perhaps ironic, considering the inability of the Mule to start a dynasty of his own). But it's a small quibble, and sometimes it works pretty well. Certainly in Arkady's case, it does. Another thing is that there are times in the books where female characters... well let's just say it's not hard to believe the books were written in the 1950s. But there are also characters who are clearly the intellectual equal of any man- characters such as Bayta and Arkady Darell. Certainly, I appreciated that.
Anyway, it's about half a century since the Mule's death, after which the Foundation regained its independence, and at least some of its former worlds. There have been a few First Citizens ruling on Kalgan since the Mule, but the "Union" they rule isn't as great as his was. Meanwhile, most people in both the Foundation and the Union, apparently, believe that the Mule's expansion had ultimately been stopped by the Second Foundation, five years before his death. There is of course no proof of this, but nevertheless, many within the Foundation have a mindset of reliance on the Second Foundation, that nothing can touch them because they are protected by this other, mysterious group. It is much the same as how prior to the Mule, everyone in the Foundation relied on Seldon's Plan to assure that they could never be defeated, even if they had no understanding of what the Plan actually was. It had kept them safe for nearly three centuries, and indeed had allowed them to become, over time, the predominant force in the galaxy. Until, of course, the Mule... who had destroyed Seldon's Plan.
However, not everyone in the Foundation thought of the Second Foundation in such a benevolent way. Arkady's father was part of a small conspiracy including Pelleas Anthor, Jole Turbor, Dr. Elvett Semic, and Homir Munn. They recognized that, whatever its motivations, the Second Foundation was surreptitiously controlling certain key members of society in the first Foundation, and perhaps elsewhere. And they didn't like the idea of their whole society's direction being controlled by outsiders, with powers like that of the Mule. So, they sought to locate the Second Foundation, themselves. To that end, they sent Homir Munn to Kalgan, to inspect the Mule's Palace, in the hopes of finding clues as to the Second Foundation's whereabouts. The Palace had been preserved as a shrine, and there's a superstition about it that prevents anyone from entering it, but it's hoped that Munn, being known to have an interest in "Muliana," would not arouse undue suspicion by requesting to visit the shrine.
What was unexpected by the conspirators was that Arkady eavesdropped on their conversation, and stowed away on Homir's one man spaceship. Also unexpected was the current First Citizen, Lord Stettin, being inspired by various events in the course of Homir and Arkady's visit, to try to conquer the Foundation and expand his Union, as the Mule had. And so there is a war (the last major war of the interregnum), but meanwhile, Arkady has other reasons to flee Kalgan, and not return to the Foundation. Instead, she gets taken in by a trade representative from Trantor, Preem Palver, and his wife. So she goes back to Trantor with them, for several months. (Which, not incidentally, is the planet where she'd been born.)
Well, I should mention that throughout both stories in this book, we see brief scenes involving members of the Second Foundation, though relatively little is revealed about them... for the most part. Of course, we do get to know that they are psychohistorians, themselves, and more than that. They've been observing the Plan for nearly four centuries now, and until the Mule, there was really no need for them to do much to interfere with it. However, since it's gone off track, they need to... get it back on track. This necessitates adjusting the Plan, and specifically, making sure those who have come to depend on them to go back to depending on themselves, as well as getting those who fear them to lay those fears to rest. Not really sure what else to say about them, except that the council of the Second Foundation are called Speakers, which is a bit ironic, considering their methods of discussion among themselves go far beyond the simple spoken language of regular people, and in fact even goes beyond telepathy, in a way that even the author himself, Asimov, makes clear cannot adequately be explained... seeing as he's one of us simple folk, himself. You know, like trying to explain color to someone who's always been blind.
Anyway... as I said in my review of "Foundation and Empire," "Second Foundation" contains no Seldon Crises. But it's certainly an interesting departure from the form of the first book, and a necessary transition back to the Plan. Oh... and, you know, I read all three books of the original trilogy years ago, as I've said, and didn't remember them that well. What I mainly remembered about this book was two different theories as to where the Second Foundation might be located. And I was kind of surprised upon rereading the book to find that there were other theories I didn't remember at all, and the ones I did recall didn't come into play until the very end. And one wasn't even a theory.... but of course, I'm not going to reveal either of those possible locations to you. Where'd be the fun in that? All I'll say is, things turned out well for the Foundation. And I look forward to reading and reviewing the subsequent entries in the series....